Donald Trump did not win the Republican debate on Wednesday night, though it was popular for pundits to say.

Donald Trump doesn’t debate on Wednesday nights.

Or Thursday nights, or Friday ...

He was at a different event, a Fox News Town Hall, performing the same lazy lounge act that went stale about four years ago.

His jabs didn’t land. His jokes mostly bombed, and even an audience of Iowa faithful couldn’t work up much more than polite applause for the candidate who phones it in.

The two best candidates in the Republican Party were on stage in Des Moines on Wednesday performing at their physical peak.

Both have been campaigning for many months now, sharpening their delivery before the dog days of 2024 set in.

Here’s what is obvious.

Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are younger, smarter, more energetic and more decent than Donald Trump.

They’re better people.

They both face a unique problem in presidential politics — a front-running movement politician who without lifting a finger can hold the loyalty of the Republican base.

Many a pundit has hectored and advised them to attack Donald Trump, to chop down the front-runner and throw him in the furnace.

They instead chose to finesse Trump, to massage the enigma.

They were right.

The control experiment here was Chris Christie, who made Trump his speed bag from the opening round.

We saw how that worked.

Shortly before Wednesday’s debate, Christie slinked out of the race with his 3.5% in the polls and his phony hot mic event.

I’ve long suspected Christie was working in tandem with DeSantis, throwing punches at Trump while DeSantis more gently appealed to Trump’s base.

On Wednesday, my suspicions were roused again when Christie was, um, caught on live microphone saying, “She’s gonna get smoked. You and I both know it. She’s not up to this.”

“She” is Nikki Haley, who, according to the latest Wall Street Journal poll, would beat Joe Biden by 17 points.

A new University of New Hampshire poll has her within single digits (7 points) of Trump in that state’s primary.

If you have any doubt Haley has the chops to be president, watch a replay of her Fox News Townhall. This was her best setting, and her performance was stellar.

It’s too soon to know, but Haley may have begun solving the puzzle for beating Trump.

It’s a combination of style and smarts.

The Southern accent is a treasured part of Americana. In its most polished form it is both cordial and disarming.

A great example is the Southern author Shelby Foote and the textured drawl that carried Ken Burns’ 1990 masterpiece “The Civil War.”

Nikki Haley’s Southern accent and manner are warm and approachable. Matched with her wits and long experience, she becomes the very picture of a president who would lead this country to stand down from its bad temper.

We are in this weird place where Haley and DeSantis have proven they are White House-ready and more deserving of the nomination than the lounge lizard in front of them.

In his post-debate interview, DeSantis provided the logic for why he might stay in the race even if he loses big to Trump in early states.

It goes like this:

Haley is drawing the support of the #NeverTrump Republicans, he told a CNN interviewer, and if Trump begins to flag, those MAGA votes are more likely to go to DeSantis.

This is the long march to ex machina — to that unknowable moment when Donald Trump might fall down the well of his own making and instantly change the race.

With potential Trump criminal convictions in the offing, Haley and DeSantis on Wednesday presented two Republican Plan-Bs.

The contrast between them was striking.

DeSantis, the broad-shouldered former naval officer and captain of the Yale Bulldogs baseball team, approaches the presidency with Republican hard power.

If he gets in the White House, he’ll bulldog into law the change people want and “lead this country’s revival,” he promised on the Drake debate stage.

Haley, the thoughtful former governor of South Carolina — who used grace rather than edicts to navigate the George Floyd summer protests and riots — approaches the presidency with Republican soft power.

That’s not to say she lacks steel. She has steel.

She has the courage to speak hard truths to her party that her opponents have not — that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election, that Jan. 6 was an ugly day for Republicans and that U.S. support of Ukraine is a deterrence to future wars that will kill Americans.

She would move us on from the Trump chaos with self-restraint and mannered resolve. “His way is not my way. I don't have vengeance. I don’t have vendettas. I don’t take things personally.”

But in this debate she did take things personally. And she lost.

The debate seemed to open as a replay of the old CNN program “Crossfire.” It was a flurry of attacks by both Haley and DeSantis.

At moments, Haley seemed flustered.

Her first mistake was bringing to the debate her emotional support animal — her web page DeSantisLies.com.

Rather than smack down DeSantis barbs, she relied on her website to answer for her — over and over and over again.

The look was not good. The look was weakness.

She stumbled when asked to name what’s good about her opponent, not understanding it’s really a question about herself:

Is she big enough to take the hits and keep her composure?

Not on this night.

She answered in a terse and peevish way — “He was a good governor.”

That provoked nervous laughter in the hall.

She had the opportunity to prove she doesn’t “take things personally” and she whiffed.

However, both she and DeSantis were tough on Joe Biden and the border chaos the president still tolerates.

Haley said her mother was a legal immigrant and used to say of those who cross illegally, “If they don’t follow the laws when they come into this country, they won’t follow the laws when they are in this country.”

DeSantis pointed to the commandeering of a public school in New York to shelter immigrants and railed that we offer less help to our own downtrodden.

“Talk about putting America last,” he said.

In the end, Haley was repeating herself, returning to her webite, calling DeSantis a liar.

DeSantis was painting her as globalist and an elite: “You can take the ambassador out of the UN, but you can’t take the UN out of the ambassador.”

He sowed doubt that Haley would have the nerve to complete the job once she won the White House.

There was one other winner at Drake University.

CNN.

Moderators Dana Bash and Jake Tapper paced the debate well with intelligent questions and a fast hook.

They tailored the questions to Republican voters, unlike Fox News and its partners in earlier primary debates.

Rather than scold the candidates when they didn’t answer the question, they firmly, though politely, requested “clarification.”

They didn’t flash their toothy smiles. They hardly smiled at all.

They made themselves disappear, and it looked like something important was starting to happen. As if something lost had reappeared.

It looked old and familiar and, in a way, lovely.

It looked like journalism.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist with The Arizona Republic. Email him at phil.boas@arizonarepublic.com.

QOSHE - DeSantis won the debate, but Haley could beat Trump - Phil Boas
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DeSantis won the debate, but Haley could beat Trump

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12.01.2024

Donald Trump did not win the Republican debate on Wednesday night, though it was popular for pundits to say.

Donald Trump doesn’t debate on Wednesday nights.

Or Thursday nights, or Friday ...

He was at a different event, a Fox News Town Hall, performing the same lazy lounge act that went stale about four years ago.

His jabs didn’t land. His jokes mostly bombed, and even an audience of Iowa faithful couldn’t work up much more than polite applause for the candidate who phones it in.

The two best candidates in the Republican Party were on stage in Des Moines on Wednesday performing at their physical peak.

Both have been campaigning for many months now, sharpening their delivery before the dog days of 2024 set in.

Here’s what is obvious.

Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are younger, smarter, more energetic and more decent than Donald Trump.

They’re better people.

They both face a unique problem in presidential politics — a front-running movement politician who without lifting a finger can hold the loyalty of the Republican base.

Many a pundit has hectored and advised them to attack Donald Trump, to chop down the front-runner and throw him in the furnace.

They instead chose to finesse Trump, to massage the enigma.

They were right.

The control experiment here was Chris Christie, who made Trump his speed bag from the opening round.

We saw how that worked.

Shortly before Wednesday’s debate, Christie slinked out of the race with his 3.5% in the polls and his phony hot mic event.

I’ve long suspected Christie was working in tandem with DeSantis, throwing punches at Trump while DeSantis more gently appealed to Trump’s base.

On Wednesday, my suspicions were roused again when Christie was, um, caught on live microphone saying, “She’s gonna get smoked. You and I both know it.........

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